The last time the Pittsburgh Pirates had a winning season President Bush was in office—George H.W. Bush. Gas cost $1.13 per gallon, and Disney’s Aladdin was the top-grossing film at the box office. The Soviet Union had fallen just months earlier.
It’s been a while.
For the past 20 years, failed prospects, bad contracts, terrible ownership decisions, and poor draft choices have plagued the Pittsburgh team. The once-mighty baseball franchise, winners of five World Series and nine National League pennants, had become the least popular team in one of America’s great sports cities. The recent successes of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins and the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers overshadowed the legends of Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski, and Willie Stargell.
But the Pirates’ woes may be at an end. On July 8th the Pittsburgh Pirates were 53-34, tied for the best record in Major League Baseball. Everything seemingly went wrong in previous years, but this season everything has gone right. Rookie players have made headlines, veteran players have shown leadership, and manager Clint Hurdle has pushed all the right buttons. Four Pirates made the MLB All-Star game, the most for Pittsburgh since 1981.
“It’s fun right now,” said catcher Russell Martin, after the Pirates’ ninth win in a row on June 30. “Being on a team with a bunch of guys who play with their hearts out there and enjoy the game, it’s definitely been a pleasure.”
Team ownership must be pleased with the results as well. Tickets, Pirates merchandise, and sponsorships are selling well, according to Forbes. “People are dusting off their Pirates shirts and coming out in droves,” said closer Jason Grilli. “We’re trying to give them what they want to see.”
Some fans have been skeptical, pointing to last season’s promising start which ended in another losing record: The 2012 Pirates lost 37 of their last 54 games. Hurdle acknowledges his team has a long way to go, but he believes his players learned “lessons” from last season. Hurdle, an outspoken Christian, has seen his team’s record improve each year since he took over in 2011. “Do you know how many times I still hear: ‘What’s going to happen later?’ I don’t know. Watch. Stay tuned. I believe I know what’s going to happen. But there are people that are never going to believe.”
The University of Nebraska’s just-opened Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior is developing a device that may be able to detect a concussion in a player’s brain, just minutes after an on-field collision. Researchers hope the electrode-covered mesh cap will analyze an athlete’s brain waves in minutes, allowing medical staff to decide if an athlete can return to the game or if he has suffered a concussion.
NFL players suffering from depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other neurological problems have highlighted the dangers of concussions sustained on the football field—a danger some believe the NFL took too lightly for years. Thousands of former players are suing the NFL, claiming the league “failed to live up to its responsibility” to protect athletes. High-profile suicides have brought the issue into the public light. Now the NCAA is making concussion research a top priority.
“It’s the elephant on the table, and we, with everyone else, we have to solve it,” NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline said. The sideline concussion assessment tool could be ready for use within one or two years. According to the CDC, athletes suffer an estimated 300,000 sports-related concussions in the United States every year. —Z.A.